What does it mean to practice mindful teaching and learning? We are just beginning to explore and understand what such an educational approach might entail. On the one hand, we have a rich tradition of contemplative practices from all over the world to draw upon. On the other hand, these seem to involve such a multitude of approaches when it comes to the act of teaching and learning that it is difficult to ascertain any single common denominator.
In the Mindful Teacher seminar, a grant-funded project supported by the Boston Collaborative Fellows, Boston Public School teachers worked with a Boston College team to develop our definition of mindful teaching and learning. One of our key practices was the creation of a new “Mindful Attunement Protocol” that provides a practical, user-friendly format for teachers who would like to practice open-mindedness, compassion, and professionalism at one and the same time.
The “Mindful Attunement Protocol” is an extension of the “Tuning Protocol” originally developed by the Coalition of Essential Schools. The Tuning Protocol is briefer and less counter-cultural; it does not involve a foray into meditation, for example. However, teachers who want to go deeper into their instructional practices, and are willing to set aside substantial periods of time for collaborative inquiry, may wish to explore the Mindfulness Attunement Protocol with their colleagues. For more information on the Tuning Protocol, please consult Joseph McDonald et al, The Power of Protocols: An Educator’s Guide to Better Practice (Teachers College Record, 2007).
The Mindful Attunement Protocol
Educators at Boston College and in the Boston Public Schools have worked together for many years and as part of this collaboration we developed a “Mindful Attunement Protocol” to help one another to develop concrete solutions to problems that emerge in teaching and learning. This protocol can be used when an educator faces a challenging situation that he or she does not know how to solve independently.
1. Introduction to the Mindful Attunement Protocol by a Previously Designated Facilitator. [3 minutes]. A facilitator clarifies for the group the purpose of the protocol—to develop practical tools to address pressing situations--and reviews norms for participants.
2. Meditation. [10 minutes]. Participants calm their bodies and focus their minds, using a meditation tape or guided by a designated group member. During the meditation participants make a mental note of psychological intrusions that arise that are related to their work as educators.
3. Journaling. [5 minutes]. Participants write down their experiences during the meditation. They pay special attention to the psychological the intrusions, describing them and the emotions that accompany them.
4. Debriefing in Dyads. [15 minutes]. Participants share their experiences from the meditation in pairs and assist each other to deal with the problems of practice that they identify.
5. Debriefing in the Group. [10 minutes]. Participants share their problems of practice in the group. A participant volunteers to present a case for discussion using the Mindful Attunement Protocol.
6. The Presentation. [7 minutes]. The presenter describes the issue and the context. Participants are silent and practice active listening.
7. Clarifying Questions. [10 minutes]. Participants have the opportunity to ask questions to clarify factual information. The presenter responds to the questions.
8. Participant Discussion. [15 minutes]. Participants among themselves share responses to the work and its context; the presenter is silent and may not interrupt. The facilitator may lend focus by reminding participants of an area of emphasis supplied by the presenter. Participants should refer to the presenter in the third person, ie, “I was impressed by how much work she has put into thinking about the problem from many points of view.” The search is for practical solutions to the issue. Statements that begin with “I wonder if …” can be especially helpful for the presenter.
9. Reflection/Response. [10 minutes]. The presenter reflects on and responds to those comments that are most helpful or thought-provoking for him or her. Participants are silent and practice active listening.
10. Debrief. [15 minutes]. The presenter begins by discussing any frustrations, misunderstandings, or positive reactions she or he may have experienced. Once the presenter is done, the participants share their reflections. More general discussion of the problem of practice and the Mindful Attunement Protocol may develop.
Norms for Participants
- Be respectful of presenters. By making their work more public, presenters are exposing themselves to kinds of critiques they may not be used to. Inappropriate comments or questions should be reformulated or withdrawn.
- Be aware of your “air time” so that everyone gets a chance to share. Silence does not always mean absence—it can open up an abundant new space for deeper levels of reflection together.
- Contribute to substantive discourse. Presenters benefit most from questions and comments that are directly related to the challenge of solving the problem of practice under discussion.
- Practice professional confidentiality. Issues may arise in the Mindful Attunement Protocol that should not be shared with others outside of the group activity.